AS THE GOVERNMENT returns from its ever-shorter summer holiday the kite flying kicked off in style, with talk of an election following on from the need for more cuts in the health budget. Backbenchers and officials in the Labour party began to vent their frustration in the general direction of Minister Reilly and Fine Gael in general.
The health service, unsurprisingly given the inconvenient tendency of Irish people to be mere mortals, is running over budget and needs to make further cuts before the end of the year to stem the bleeding. In response we hear wailing and gnashing from Labour, a party whose solution to said problems – if they could bother to advance one – would never involve anything like cutting spending in some other department to make up the shortage.
As I’ve remarked many times, for a period of great national struggle the quality of our politics has been disappointingly mediocre. Fianna Fáil has been sitting on the sidelines chucking rocks at many individual decisions the government has made and Labour has been jumping around on the hot coals of hard decision making; all the while Fine Gael has been acting the arrogant aunt and ministers have been stabbing one another in the back while claiming full support for one another.
The only reason the Labour Party ought to be in this government is so as to earn ministerial pensions and kudos for its almost geriatric leadership on their last lap around the Dáil bar. The party wants to meet the laudable goal of retaining social spending programs whilst maintaining the laughable position of refusing to make targeted cuts to government bureaucracy.
There are very few ways to square the circle of Labour’s ambitions with the hard economic facts of being a bankrupt nation. A party unwilling to make hard choices can’t make any good choices in a government trying to navigate its way through an IMF bailout.
The Labour party is better at complaining about cuts in opposition than it is in implementing them in a structured fashion whilst in government. The sum total of their solutions when out of government is the usual vague malarky about better management; and their modus when in government is to keep proposing tax increases while going along with the decisions they found so reprehensible in the past.
Fianna Fáil on the other hand is a party that implemented some damn tough policies when in government but now has no problem in showing the gumption to complain about almost every individual decision of the current government. The party has to generally support the bailout, but from hospitals to fuel taxes the party seems to have developed the magical insight of opposition to make perfect policies now that they can’t execute any of them.
The party that signed us up to 23 per cent VAT in the bailout agreement danced a jig when the current government implemented the change in one year rather than over two. Big deal, it was a crappy policy either way. The same Fianna Fáil that gave us the income levy and tourist tax on incoming flights to Ireland complains that we should lower fuel taxes, an idea that – in all honesty – Fianna Fáil in government would have fobbed off from Fine Gael and Labour in opposition.
Fine Gael are playing politics with many decisions and poorly executing many policies. When in opposition they were just as perfect in their decision making as Fianna Fáil and others are today.
Labour is incredibly uneasy in government, and trying to implement policies in the framework of fiscal control that left wing parties find such an anathema to their thinking. They’re a blockage to some key reforms that would enable the country to cull bureaucrats and pay more nurses, and they are creating uncertainty with a student-union maturity level in some of the politicking they are undertaking.
The good fight
To compound things, the Labour party has opposition moving into its territory as the left wing party of choice. Sinn Féin, in particular, unencumbered with the strains of actual decision making (in the Republic, at least), is eating into the pie of voters who believe in endless pots of money hidden down back gardens in Dublin 4.
For their own sake as well as the country, Labour should go back to where it belongs: Safely ensconced in opposition where they can never be wrong and they can fight the good socialist fight alongside (and against) all those usurpers.
In their place Fianna Fáil should step up and do the honourable thing of supporting the baby they conceived through their incompetence. If they and Fine Gael could only grow up and show their age as statesmanlike parties of power, rather than civil war opposition, then we could likely see the kinds of decisions that both parties prefer to make when in power (as opposed to their fantasies when in opposition). Then we can get some decisive movement in government to break the paralysis of a coalition that will supposedly save the country whilst raising no taxes and cutting no spending.
It would only take two things to happen for this to become a reality: Firstly, the Labour party should get sense: The only time they ought to be in government is during good times when they can blow endless wads of money on silly big government programs without anybody caring (aka, what Fianna Fáil did in government).
Secondly, Fine Gael and Fianna Fáil should stop playing politics, man up and take control of the destiny of the country. Fianna Fáil by coming back into the fold of supporting the kinds of hard decisions it had to make only a year and a half ago; and both parties by putting aside their mutual electioneering instincts to run against one another all of the time.
Leave the left to their fantasies in opposition; let Fine Gael play their role as the saviour of the nation; and make Fianna Fáil continue to take responsibilities for their failures by signing their names to each and every policy implemented in the name of our bailout.